JAMES have always defied categorisation. Originally hailed as a whimsical version of The Smiths, they were ultimately likened to grandiose stadium-fillers U2. The truth is they were neither.
Driven by singer Tim Booth’s unique take on the world, and underpinned by those jangling guitars and glorious harmonies, they ploughed their own very singular furrow, while producing at least three classic spine-tingling anthems (Sit Down, She’s A Star and Seven).
The wonderful news for all James fans is that their superb new album, Girl At The End Of The World, contains at least three more.
In typically forthright fashion, Booth described the challenge facing the band as they approached this record thus: “Bands talk about that difficult second album, but it’s the trickster 14th that’s the real mother****er. This is perhaps the most difficult and stressful album we have ever made”. It is also, arguably, their best.
James: "the most difficult and stressful album we have ever made"
With influential input from producer Max Dingel (The Killers and Muse) and the legendary Brian Eno, who needs no introduction, it has a cutting edge and a savage musical intensity, which adds power and glory to Booth’s teasing, opaque lyrics and a depth to those flowing anthems.
Bitch is a rousing opener, with Booth’s voice, rich, warm, expressive and engrossing, taking centre stage after a driving New Order-esque intro; the coruscating To My Surprise, which already has taken its place in the pantheon of James classics, maintains the frantic pace, before Nothing But Love, a lilting sing-a-long, and the haunting Feet Of Clay, so reminiscent of the timelessly beautiful Seven, remind us of the band’s gentler side.
Catapult and Girl At The End Of The World, two crackers, provide the perfect climax to an astonishingly accomplished and accessible album.
When James split in 2006, there was a good deal of genuine sadness – not just among the band’s more loopy, goofy followers, but also among those of us who felt James were one of the finest bands of the 1990s.
The band’s triumphant return, which has been marked by a couple of great albums and has featured two superb gigs in Leeds, has put a smile back on all our faces. Booth, originally from Boston Spa, and his band have literally – and metaphorically - Come Home.
* James play Leeds First Direct Arena on Saturday, May 14